Argentine ruling party candidate jabs hard in presidential debate

 16 Nov 2015 - 4:31

Argentine ruling party candidate jabs hard in presidential debate
Argentina's ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli (L) speaks as Mauricio Macri, presidential candidate for the Cambiemos (Let's Change) alliance, listens during the presidential debate ahead of the November 22 run-off election in Buenos Aires, November 15, 2015. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci


By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina's ruling party presidential candidate, Daniel Scioli, lagging in opinion polls, came out swinging in Sunday's debate against his business-friendly rival but switched to defense when confronted by the outgoing government's record.

Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province, has been endorsed by outgoing President Cristina Fernandez. Barred by law from running for a third term this year, Fernandez will leave her successor to deal with double-digit inflation, scant central bank reserves and a widening fiscal deficit.

Scioli's opponent in the Nov. 22 election is Mauricio Macri, a free-markets proponent who is leading the polls by about 8 percentage points after a stronger-than-expected performance in last month's first round of voting.

"His policies are a danger for our society," Scioli said at the open of the televised debate held in a Buenos Aires university. "Who would pay the price of the fiscal adjustment that would come from the sharp currency devaluation he wants?

"Who will pay the price of lifting subsidies? Families need to know how they will pay their light, gas and transportation bills," Scioli said.

Macri struck back with a litany of complaints about Fernandez's stewardship of Latin America's third-biggest economy, starting with official growth, inflation and poverty data long discarded as fudged by private economists.

The Argentine peso closed at 15 to the U.S. dollar in black market trade on Friday, far weaker than the official 9.6 pesos to the greenback, a rate that is propped up by central bank interventions in the foreign exchange market.

"Argentina's problem is not the dollar. It is a government that does not stop lying and has destroyed confidence in our country, which is why there's no investment or growth. Inflation has diluted the income of our retirees and our work force," said Macri.

He promises to spur investment by quickly dismantling Fernandez's trade and currency controls. Scioli's message of gradual change toward more orthodox policies while preserving Fernandez's generous welfare programs has failed to catch fire with the middle-class swing voters who will decide the election.

The jury was out as to whether Sunday's stand-off between the two candidates will swing many votes.

"This debate was certainly an inflection point, but it came at a time when Macri has the momentum," said local pollster Mariel Fornoni.